BASEES individual paper abstracts

Professor Stephen Hutchings, Professor Vera Tolz and Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody ‘Rethinking Information War: The Spies Who Came Back From the Snow’ 

In recent years, a cycle of heightened tensions between Russia and various countries in North America and Western Europe has seen politicians, intelligence communities, academics and journalists in these countries issue stark warnings about Russia’s ‘neo-imperial ambitions’, and the tools of ‘hybrid warfare’ – including international journalism – it employs to achieve them (CEPA/Legatum Institute, 2016; European Values, 2017; US Director of National Intelligence, 2017; RAND Corporation, 2018). Within this context, the March 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal evolved from a major diplomatic incident into a protracted conflict-driven media event. Building on the theory of disruptive media events developed by Katz and Liebes (2007), Couldry et al (2009) and others, this paper provides an in-depth four-way analysis comparing how the poisoning and its aftermath were mediated by Russian broadcasters (Channel 1; RT/Russia Today) and the BBC – for both their domestic and international audiences. It reveals a complex, deeply recursive process of choreography and counter-choreography of coverage, implicitly motivated by the desire to pre-empt and rebut the media narratives of the opponent and propelled by the latent Cold War reflexes that this classic ‘spy mystery’ evokes. Yet, it also demonstrates the negotiated production of these narratives within a radically transformed postCold War global media ecology: responsiveness to the evolving news cycle; engagement with social media; and the influence of journalists’ personal styles and agendas

Connell Beggs  ‘Navigating a Crisis: The Russian Orthodox Church’s Shifting Framing during the Conflict in Ukraine’

This paper analyses the official response of the Russian Orthodox Church to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine – a country of significant importance to this so-called ‘soft power’ organisation. The paper explores how the Church reported key topics and events through its online media outlet and thus represented its (self-perceived) role and responsibilities in the region. The results of the analysis show that the ROC’s initial reporting on the crisis was both limited and restrained. Following the annexation of Crimea, the Church increasingly framed its activities in Ukraine through the lens of humanitarianism rather than the centrality and legitimacy of Church peacekeeping and mediation, as previously. This framing then later shifted to prominently portraying the Church as a major victim of the crisis. The paper argues that the ways in which the Church reported on the crisis reveal that it was adopting specific media tactics to try to protect and stabilise its influence and interests in Ukraine

Lucy Birge ‘Projecting Russia onto the Global Media Ecology: the Case of Sputnik’

Founded by the Russian state news agency in 2014, Sputnik is a heterogeneous web-based broadcasting outlet featuring news analysis, opinion pieces and opinion polls, multimedia content, live newswire, a social media presence and a digital radio station. Where RT, Russia’s state-funded international television broadcaster, is more concerned with critiquing Western domestic and foreign policies, Sputnik, principally a radio broadcasting outlet, concentrates on depicting a favourable image of Russia. The proposed paper will ask: what is the distinctive role of Sputnik in Russia’s efforts to project itself onto the new global media ecology? Three case studies will show how the outlet deploys three seasoned tropes of Russian identity: the centenary of the 1917 Revolutions (great Russian history and culture); war in Syria (Russia as a great power); and the Salisbury poisonings (Russia and the West). Content from Sputnik International’s UK and US English language radio broadcasts will be contrasted with its Russian language radio output, targeted at Russians and Russian- speaking communities in the “near abroad”. Similarly, Sputnik’s broadcasts will be compared to the analysis of RT undertaken within the AHRC project Reframing Russia. The axes of comparison will enable one to assess for the very first time Sputnik’s distinctive role in Russia’s larger projection strategy.

Dr Rhys Crilley, Professor Marie Gillespie and Dr Alistair Willis, ‘Reframing Russia through Football: Analysing RT’s World Cup 2018 Reporting and Audience Reception’ 

Global sporting events such as the World Cup are often spoken of in terms of soft power – where they are viewed to be beneficial to the states that host them. With the World Cup 2018 being hosted in Russia amidst deteriorating relations between Russia and the ‘West’, concerns were raised prior to the tournament that “Putin is going to use it in the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics”. Such concerns, whilst hyperbolic, warrant further inspection; how did the Russian state represent the Russian nation through their coverage of the World Cup to global audiences? And how did audiences interpret and respond to such representations? In order to answer these questions, this paper provides an analysis of over 700 online articles published by the Russian-state funded international broadcaster RT (formerly Russia Today). We then discuss findings from social media and focus group analysis of RT audiences, and reflect on the implications of how sport, soft power, and digital technologies intersected in RT’s World Cup coverage.

Vitaly Kazkov, ‘From Sochi 2014 to Russia 2018: (Social) Media Memory and Interpretation of Russian Mega-Events’.

On the last day of the Sochi Olympics, the image of a ‘new, powerful Russia’ was captured during the Closing Ceremony when three cross-country skiers from the host country swept the podium to wild applause from the crowd in the Olympic stadium. Four years later, due to multiple scandals shaking up Russian sports and a highly volatile geopolitical situation, the legacy of Sochi is tarnished. Even in Russia itself, the sombre realisation of the doping scandal led many experts and members of the public to highlight infrastructure as the main—if not only—element of the Games’ legacy, despite the fact much more was promised by the organisers prior to the competition taking place. This paper relies on accounts of social media interpretations of the questions of significance and legacy of the Sochi Olympics at various stages after the competition: from the Games’ Closing Ceremony to the Opening of the World Cup in 2018, and the several important milestones in between. Supplemented by reflections from media personnel, sports sector professionals, and fans gained through interviews in the wake of the World Cup, the discussion explores the dynamics of media and public memory of the first sporting mega-event in contemporary Russia, while evaluating challenges and opportunities these developments present when approaching the questions of legacy of the second—arguably, much larger—event: the FIFA 2018 World Cup.